How would you respond if someone asked you, “Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself?” It seems like a simple enough question, but what if this person is a potential employer, a great contact, or a distinguished researcher? It’s a simple conversation that can carry a lot of weight, considering that first impressions are so important. As a senior, I can promise that the question does get easier over time…that is, if you practice. It’s a delicate balance between being able to toot your own horn and being obnoxious or cocky.
For a more professional take on this, you can visit some of the sites at the bottom, but for now, I’m going to give you my personal experiences when it comes to presenting yourself to a professional in a short time frame.
First and foremost, and although it can seem so straightforward, a good physical appearance is key to a good first impression. I’m not saying you need to have the top of the line suit or have your nails professionally done, but you might be surprised where a conservative suit, a good handshake, a nice smile, and good hygiene can get you. The bulk of horror stories I’ve heard from recruiters involve some sort of appearance issue….the guy that ran in late and was dripping sweat or the girl that wore so much perfume it made the recruiter’s eyes water. I have walked around career fairs, wondering why a girl was wearing such a short skirt to an interview, I can only imagine what the recruiters are thinking.
You might be familiar with this video, which I feel sums up the appearance issue. It’s hard to talk about how organized, driven, and professional when your appearance says you’re frumpy. If you don’t care enough about your personal hygiene, why would you care a lot about our company? I don’t care how smart or qualified you are, if I can’t tolerate standing in an elevator with you due to body odor, I do not want to be sharing a cubicle with you.
Now if you look smart and polished on the outside, now you only need to convey how smart and polished you are on this inside…which is usually the part where people have trouble. It’s really easy to go overboard and rattle off too many facts or accomplishments. People have short attention spans, and for recruiters or professors, not a lot of free time. You need to convey yourself as accurately as possible in as little time as possible–ultimately and hopefully leading to a contact, follow up interview, job offer, etc.
Personally, I tend to go with the old elementary school: Who, what, when, where, why approach. You might be surprised at how well this works for almost any situation…whether you are at a career fair or on an elevator with the CEO of your dream company.
Hi, my name is Amanda Thorp and I am a senior Chemical Engineering student at West Virginia University. I’ll be graduating in May 2013, and I’m really interested in health and safety involving the oil and natural gas industry. I had an internship last summer regarding Asset Integrity, and I was really interested in applying for your full-time Process Engineer position.
Hi, my name is Amanda Thorp and I am currently the President of the WVU Section of the Society of Women Engineers. We are hosting an event in the spring called Girl Scout Day, where Girl Scouts can complete math and science activities and learn more about STEM-related disciplines. Considering your company’s interest and mission to encourage more females to pursue engineering careers, I was wondering if I could talk to you some more about possibly partnering with us for this event?
…and so on. I think it’s important to note that I didn’t need to elaborate much more. If you talk for much longer, the person will feel overwhelmed or just lose interest. The major point to drive home is that this is a start of a conversation and networking relationship. Chances are, they will ask follow-up questions. This isn’t a lecture where one person does all the talking for one block of time….it’s communication, and there’s a certain amount of give and take. People love to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity too!
Also, although it can be nerve-wracking, it is an important skill. It’s good to practice in front of a mirror, but even better practicing with a friend, teacher, or fellow-SWE member. This is when you can pick up on the little quirks you have when speaking, especially when you are nervous. Personally, I didn’t realize how many times I say “like” or how fast/loud I talked….which was too many “likes,” way too fast, and way too loud.
Practice and take advantage of this skill at career fairs, interviews, and conferences…including Region G Conference March 1-3 (where you can also attend great sessions regarding job-searching, academia, and so on!).
Get yourself those opportunities by making a LinkedIn profile and uploading your resume to the SWE Career site! Good luck!